The Creator Speaks: Rohrer On Chain World

The good book, I guess

In the beginning, there was a GDC presentation. Just a quiet little talk between developers, and a what-if experiment wherein a one-off, modded version of Minecraft was personally passed by Passage/Sleep Is Death/Inside A Star-Filled Sky creator Jason Rohrer to a curious audience member, who would then be the only person to see what Rohrer had built inside the game. The rules: you do not talk about Chain World. You do not keep on playing Chain World once you die in it. You then pass it on to someone who has ‘expressed interest,’ and to no other.

That was the plan, anyway. Then this secret world’s first inheritor, Jia Ji, came up with his own, rather different plan: a philanthropic auction, which closed at $3,300, and a promise to later send Chain World on to gaming luminaries Jane McGonigal and Will Wright. He told us why he did that earlier today, as well as why he offered RPS a copy (the temptation was you-would-not-believe strong, but we ultimately declined). So how did Rohrer feel about his quiet attempt at founding a digital religion being so quickly turned to a new, and very public, belief system? Did he even intend for this to become a talking point that’s infuriating as many people as it’s exciting? Were those rules he made actually designed to be broken all along? And if this is a religion, who is its god? Let’s ask him.

Incidentally, if you haven’t already done so, I very strongly urge you to watch the first 15 or so minutes of this video, wherein the Chain World concept is introduced. A fair few people have lobbed bile at the project and its creator without actually witnessing the casual cheer with which it was first pitched. If you’re at all tempted to snarl about how this is arch posturing and pretension (which admittedly text-based summations can be guilty of making it appear to be), watch this first and you might be extremely surprised.

You’ve watched it, yeah? You’re not allowed to read the below interview until you have.

RPS – Chain World has almost immediately headed off down a different path than the one you originally suggested for it. How do you feel about this? Is charity and celebrity to the good or ill of the project?

The moment I sent USB stick out into the world, it became totally out of my control. That was, in part, the point—each person in the chain does her part, but has no control—or knowledge—of what happens after she passes. Those mechanisms invest your one, personal play through the game with an extreme amount of gravity. This is it, my one chance. As I said during my talk, the one Chain World game that I played ended with the most heart-breaking death in my entire video game life. I was left with a deep sense of loss over what I had failed to accomplish, but I was somewhat comforted in the knowledge that others might carry on where I left off. In other words, it was a sense of beautiful loss.

So, I suppose each person will have the tendency to think very carefully about what they want to do with their own moment in Chain World. I think it’s safe to say that Jia Ji went overboard in a weird direction that no one was expecting. He emailed me a few times when he was setting this all up—I didn’t put my foot down or tell him not to do it (not that I really could have anyway). I mostly just sat quietly and watched it all unfold.

I’m not particularly interested in the charity that he’s chosen, nor am I in favour of tying celebrities to the whole thing. Playing my part in the meta-game-religion around the whole thing, I’ve encouraged people to break Jia’s rules just as he broke mine. Why should the person who won his eBay auction feel forced to send the stick onto someone that Jia chooses?

RPS – How much, if at all, would you agree with the argument that fragmentation and breaking of the rules makes it even more akin to how religions have traditionally evolved?

Yeah, I guess I couldn’t have set a better religion in motion on purpose than what I seem to have set in motion by accident.

RPS – Are your rules designed to be broken and evolved – i.e. are they the 10 Commandments or are they the Bible?

Wait, which one of those examples is designed to be broken and evolved?

In the case of Chain World, all of this really depends on the fundamental limits of digital technology. There is no such thing as an “original” digital file. The rules of Chain World are included on that USB stick as a simple ASCII text file. People who read the rules from this file have no way of knowing that what they are reading are my original rules. In fact, there’s no way to verify that they are playing an unmodified, true instance of Chain World. I spent some time making the USB stick itself rather unique, and I’m pretty sure that I could identify a fake, but I’m the only one in the world who knows for sure what the original physical object looked like. Also, someone could modify the stick!

The point is, while I didn’t design the rules to be broken or evolved, the way that the rules are delivered does not prevent people from breaking and evolving them.

RPS – Have you been in discussion with Ji, McGonigal or Wright? And leading on from that, how invested are you in shaping the project’s future now it’s out of your physical hands?

Jia emailed me a few times in the beginning as he was setting things up, but I mostly stayed quiet and didn’t get involved in any discussions. Jane emailed me about borrowing some of my slides for PAX, but we had no discussion either. We later had some email exchanges after the twitter-scape directed its collective anger at her. No, I’m not mad at Jane! I’ve never in my life communicated with Will Wright, though I hope to someday, because I’ve enjoyed his games and his talks.

I’m not invested in shaping the project’s future at all. I sent it out in the world—that was my part. Though I am watching the events unfold.

RPS – What do you expect to happen in the near future, and what did you predict would be its status around about now had Mr Ji not been such a force of chaos?

Well, I’m waiting to see what the eBay winner does with the stick, if anything. Will Jia fork off more copies and hold additional auctions? Will the whole thing just die down and disappear?

If Jia had not stirred things up the way that he did, it would probably be passing quietly from hand to hand, and there would be no news story at all.

RPS – More generally, were you braced for this becoming something of an online sensation when you made the pitch at GDC? Indeed, how much was that the point?

Absolutely not. In fact, the way I designed it made it sort of an anti-sensation. No online presence. No way of tracking the location of the stick. Something that disappears from public view forever, immediately after my talk, and makes everyone wonder about it after that. A secret practice, of sorts. And a secret practice doesn’t make headlines.

RPS – One thing that hasn’t been written about much is the fact that this has Minecraft at its heart, as much as the concept of the secret hand-me-down world. While admittedly I can’t think of all that many other games that would have fit so neatly (although now I think of it Sleep Is Death could have had wonderful results), why Minecraft? Anything to do with the fact that there are elements of the religious cult around it/Notch in the first place, or am I just wildly reaching here?

Yeah, sticking one of my own existing games in the middle of a “new religion” would have felt way too much like self-promotion.

I actually wanted to design a new game to fit into the chain model, but as I tried to envision one, my mind kept circling back to Minecraft. I’d start with some other simple core design, but to make it feel right, I’d add this feature and that feature, until what I had was essentially Minecraft. After going through that process several times, I eventually just conceded to the most obvious solution and used Minecraft.

And, it was a perfect fit, because it’s also a game that has created quite a few spiritual feelings in me already. There’s already something like a Chain World phenomenon happening on the multiplayer servers (if you’re clever enough to gain access to one)—you wander around and wonder about all these object that others have constructed and left behind. You think carefully about what you build and how others that come after you will perceive it. Then the server admin installs an upgrade, forcing a world reset, and all that collective work is lost!

And if there’s a god of Minecraft, it’s certainly Notch. He set the algorithms in motion that sculpt the raw, natural form of the world. He’s the one who picked the number 128.

RPS – Thanks for your time.

Jason Rohrer’s latest game is tactical shmup Inside A Star Filled Sky, which we gave some initial impressions of here. We’ll be writing more about it at some point soon.


  1. Lewie Procter says:

    Chain World is probably my favourite gaming event of 2011 so far. Hats off to Jason.

    • Om says:

      Really? I’m struggling to see what the fuss is about

    • BooleanBob says:

      Had I to pick my favourite gaming event of 2011, I would probably choose something I had the opportunity to play.

    • Masked Dave says:

      He did say so far. I agree with Lewie really, its a very interesting idea.

    • Lewie Procter says:


      All Jason did is say some words, show some pictures and give someone a game on a pen drive, and huge numbers of people are now invested and interested in what happens to it. Look at how much passion and thinking has come out of it.

      Games are amazing.

    • icupnimpn2 says:

      The idea is okay, I guess. But all this “religion” talk is vapid. It’s no more a religion than any chain letter. The name fits nicely; the religious talk is pretentious.

  2. Teddy Leach says:

    You just know the world will be uploaded at some point.

  3. qrter says:

    In fact, the way I designed it made it sort of an anti-sensation. No online presence. No way of tracking the location of the stick. Something that disappears from public view forever, immediately after my talk, and makes everyone wonder about it after that. A secret practice, of sorts. And a secret practice doesn’t make headlines.

    Personally, I think I would’ve preferred this. And then after a couple of years, maybe a book or a dedicated site would appear, detailing what happened (as far as was known).

    • Shih Tzu says:

      It still could! Somewhere along the line, someone’s going to calmly rebel against Ji’s plans and pass the stick off to someone in violation of the auction model. No one can stop that, in the same way Rohrer can’t stop Ji from molding the project in the fashion he has.

    • MikoSquiz says:

      I think this is the problem, really. It’s a private little thing being splashed all over the game media for no readily apparent, hence the backlash. Well, that and it’s being talked up like the Second Coming of Christ while actually being a cute little variation on an old and common idea.

    • zbeeblebrox says:

      How would you know if you would’ve preferred that or not? Had it happened that way, you’d probably never have even heard of the original contest in the *first* place, let alone the concept itself.

      Thanks to Jia, we’re actually talking about this thing, and discussing its implications. Something that would’ve never happened otherwise. I don’t think you realize how potentially obscure it could’ve become. Maybe ten people would’ve mess around with it before it got lost in someone’s attic, never to be seen, spoke of, or thought about again. In other words, it nearly won the Game.

    • Manley Pointer says:

      You know how some writers will aggressively edit what other people have written — no matter how great the original text was — because they need to feel like they’re smarter than the author? It’s exactly what Jia Ji did: he couldn’t recognize a good idea, and immediately overwrote the rules that made it interesting.

      It’s not about play, philosophy, or finding loopholes. Chain World was a good idea when it left Rohrer’s hands, and its next owner made it into a bad one.

      It’s hilarious that Rohrer immediately passed his game on to the worst possible audience: designers who dream of impressing GDC or TED crowds with their windy pronouncements rather than making anything anyone will still be interested in a couple years down the line. But Jia Ji is getting press, which I’m sure is all he wanted.

      When SA forum members decided to create a long-running chain game shared between players, they created Boatmurdered, one of the funniest gaming histories ever written. I doubt this chain world will become anything but hype.

      If Rohrer really wanted this to be a secret practice or a long-lived world (as he claims in the interview) he wouldn’t have introduced it at GDC, or given it to the press-hungry folks that GDC attracts.

    • qrter says:

      How would you know if you would’ve preferred that or not? Had it happened that way, you’d probably never have even heard of the original contest in the *first* place, let alone the concept itself.

      That argument works both ways, though, making it kind of toothless. I mean, if I had never heard about, I wouldn’t miss not hearing about it. It’s not that amazing or interesting a concept, really.

      As far as I can see, the concept becomes more interesting if done as Rohrer describes it – the invisibility gives the project a very personal, intimate dimension, if you will.

      (And I did say I would be interested in reading about such a project after it had concluded in some way.)

  4. Niche93 says:

    Again, I think this is a very very interesting story and I’m looking forward to following the stick too.
    Also, a very great interview!

    Since I heard of Sleep is Death I’ve thought that it was a shame that it didn’t get enough attention, as I think it could have turned into something much greater. To me it is a matter of luck and timing that it didn’t. And partly, Minecrafts success was too.

    Last, MCForumversion of the experiment: link to

  5. CMaster says:

    As much as it would be obviously jumping off, I kinda like the idea of doing a similar thing with say, RPS readers, with the exception that after a set number of hops (10? 50? 100?) it gets uploaded somewhere and then someone posts an article about what they find.

    I’d also say that signs are allowed, just no attempt to tell the next person what to do. Signs like “This way to the crystal tower” or “tools here” or “press for cake” are all part of the game to me.

    • Niche93 says:

      See. This. Really. Not quite RPS readers only, but it is almost what you suggest: link to

    • tomeoftom says:

      I’d really love for something like that to happen, but where every player, in reverse chronological order, then publishes their thoughts on the world. Perhaps each report a day apart, or something.

    • CMaster says:

      Not really. That doesn’t have the timeout. I’m thinking more of a traditional succession game format, but without the commentary until at the end, where we get a video walkthrough etc.

    • Niche93 says:

      Oh yes I see that. I was thinking more of the community aspect of it. At one point I was also thinking of adding something after some hops so that the world would be a little more public (like allowing people to upload a few screen shots), but I decided to stay closer to the original idea. This is probably why I thought your suggestion very similar. And also the detail about the signs – I have removed that rule.

      Wow, confused post, sorry about that, hope you can make some sense out of it.

    • Luminous Nose says:

      What you are suggesting is totally at odds with Rohrer’s original concept…which you’d know if you watched the video as recommended by RPS.

      Each Chain World player is supposed to wander the world attempting to grasp the meaning of this little land formation or that railway line, etc. but always failing. To let players leave helpful or even just incidental notes would be at odds with this struggle to find our own meaning in the ‘prepared’ game world.

    • Niche93 says:

      Luminous Nose: This project is still very new to me and I am very unsure of many things, so I might change the rules around because of an argument. Like in this case. You have enlightened me and I have returned the sign rule.

  6. kwyjibo says:

    The worst thing about religion is the leagues of proselytizing crap that is generated by its adherents. Please stop producing this crap.

    • Shih Tzu says:

      You need to understand that we do this not out of hate, but out of love. We love you, Rohrer loves you, and we tell you about the Chain World out of compassion, that you may not go astray.

    • zbeeblebrox says:

      Is it bad even when it’s proselytization based around an object which is itself a critical commentary on religion?

    • The Tupper says:

      kwyjibo has been seduced by the false prophecies of The Creeper.

      It’s not her fault. Perhaps if she had spent forty days and nights in the desert biome without a stone pick or cooked pork she would understand.

    • Luminous Nose says:

      Chain World is not trying to convert you, waging crusade or building intelligent design museums. If this Minecraft mod gives you the shits then ignore it like the big grown up adult that you are because it harms nobody and is a cool idea and let us all worship Rohrer, may his word light our game paths.

    • pipman3000 says:

      there is no god but meier, and soren is his messenger.

    • JFS says:

      You mean Meyer? Do not defile the name of the One, fool!

  7. Baf says:

    I expect that after a while there will be multiple chain worlds being passed around and no one will be quite sure which one, if any, is the original.

    Also, it seems inevitable that someone will eventually turn the whole world into one massive lava pit, and no one will be able to warn anyone else without breaking the rules.

    • Tei says:

      If there are more than one world. And some are “killed” by griefers. Then you are talking about natural selection. The only USB’s that will survive, will be the ones decent enough to deserve to continue, and that has managed to have a story mostly griefer free.

    • Unaco says:

      You haven’t studied much Biology have you Tei?

    • zbeeblebrox says:

      Baf – how do you know this hasn’t already happened? How do you know Rohrer didn’t secretly pass out a second USB stick?

  8. Zogtee says:

    Part of me think this story is getting an unreasonable amount of attention. Part of me think it will be mildly interesting to see where this little USB world goes and what happens to it.

    But religion? Spiritual journeys? GTFO.

    • Teddy Leach says:

      This. Things seem to have gotten silly.

    • DXN says:

      Yeah. I’m really trying and failing to see how this story merits anything like the attention it’s getting, and especially the comparisons to a “religion”. It’s an iron-man succession game in minecraft. Okay. Not an uninteresting idea I suppose, but why on earth has it become such a sensation? What’s so news-worthy about it? Is it really so much more interesting than the countless private or semi-private minecraft worlds that already exist? I honestly don’t get it.

    • lokimotive says:

      Did you guys watch the video? Do you understand that this idea of religion is not something that crept into the discussion at a later point in time but was, in fact, the catalyst for the discussion in the first place? The whole point of the GDC was to take a topic and think about how it could be applied to game design. That topic was religion, so obviously it factors in the discussion of the game design.

      You may not agree with Rohrer’s analysis of the topic, or his conclusion, but the point is that the concept was born out of the topic of religion. In discussing what happened with it, I really don’t think it’s inappropriate to continue that discussion.

    • Shih Tzu says:

      I also don’t understand the attention that poor Jewish carpenter is receiving. Sure, he claimed to have visions from God, but then so do many other sufferers of schizophrenia. I think it’s rather appalling that the state executed him for no good reason, but I nevertheless can’t fathom the fascination he seems to inspire in his lingering adherents. Still, there are thousands of small cults out there; like those, I expect this one will fade away in due course, especially now that their leader is gone.

    • Teddy Leach says:

      That’s actually the first time I’ve ever heard Jesus being accused of schizophrenia. And d’ya know what? It actually kind of makes sense. Well done, sir!

    • Lilliput King says:

      Well this isn’t gonna go anywhere good.

    • pipman3000 says:

      so when’s the minecraftian crusade to retake the holy city from the dwarf fortresshiites and civilisunnis scheduled? oh and (video game joke religious joke)

    • Sassenach says:

      And while we’re at it, how about that politics eh?

    • Consumatopia says:

      In discussing what happened with it, I really don’t think it’s inappropriate to continue that discussion.

      I suppose it’s not inappropriate, it’s just taking a metaphor too far. Religion is such a big thing that pretty much everything resembles it somehow or another. I mean, the original idea was cool, but this whole thing where everything you do with the key resembles a religious act (“I destroyed the usb key in bathroom…you know like a baptism I guess”) is old already and shows no sign of stopping.

    • Zogtee says:

      I don’t think it’s inappropriate either. I just fail to see the relevance. We might as well be discussing shoes or the taste of red M&M’s. And yes, I did watch the video and I’ve studied theology and religion for years.

      I think this is more about trying to be serious and deep, than genuinely being so.

  9. Tei says:

    One of the first thing I learned as a teenager, is that everyone has a rich interior life. Poets are poets because are better at communicating his interior, but everyone a interesting interior.
    Minecraft may help part of all people to communicate his interior, so his interior beauty is seen.
    Religions are creepy, and the origin of religions are even more creepy. I could see that a lot of people feel uneasy at this thing, because of the creepiness, and how experimental and ‘weird’ the whole thing sounds. Religion is a sensible topic, maybe the organizers sould have choosed a different topic. Rohrer delivered exactly what was asked, but maybe creating it was a bad idea anyway.
    Lets hope the next in the chain turn this in something that make a few people more happy.
    The experiment is really not all that original. As there are a lot of sequences games. Only if it work, and people have these special feeling wen looking at the architecture, then will be original.

  10. Michael Riley says:

    I’m not sure if this was intentional (if it was, I just don’t understand), but the link to Inside a Star-filled Sky says “Star Field Sky.”

  11. TV-PressPass says:

    this would be more interesting if I actually enjoyed playing minecraft

    • tomeoftom says:

      YOU would be more interesting if you actually enjoyed playing minecraft

    • Shih Tzu says:

      It’s true! It’s one of the Laws of Minecraft.

    • The Tupper says:

      BLASPHEMY! Stone him.

    • gamma says:

      STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT RIGHT NOW! STOP IT! All right, no one is to stone _anyone_ until I blow this whistle. Even… and I want to make this absolutely clear… even if they do say, “Jia Ji.”

  12. lokimotive says:

    Jason Roher : Jesus :: Jia Ji : Paul of Tarsus ?

    • Unaco says:

      Jason Rohrer is to Jesus as Jia Ji is to Paul of Tarsus? Or, do you mean Jia Ji is to Jason Rohrer as Paul of Tarsus is to Jesus… Jia Ji:Rohrer::Paul of Tarsus:Jesus.
      I don’t know if I’d make the Paul – Jesus analogy… more like Jia Ji took the ‘Religion’, and corrupted and bastardised it towards his own agenda.
      Also, it seems closer to Scientology than any of the Abrahamic Religions… Celebrities and those who can pay the most get to join the club.

      Edit: Ignore the rambling on propositions at the start… I’m sure the two statements are likely equivalent.

    • Muzman says:

      Rohrer’s John the Baptist. The USB stick is jesus.

    • zbeeblebrox says:

      But where are we going to find a cross that small??

    • lokimotive says:

      Oh dear…

    • gamma says:

      RPS: Look, I don’t think it should be a sin, just for saying “Jia Ji”.
      [Everyone gasps]
      GDC: You’re only making it worse for yourself!
      RPS: Making it worse? How can it be worse? Jia Ji! Jia Ji! Jia Ji!

  13. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    It’s interesting from a game design point of view, as I’ve said before.. in a different way from simultaneous multiplayer. But the religion aspect is totally bogus. It just helps illustrate (but also partially obfuscates) the way a game could be designed and/or grow. He must have a pretty big belief (hah!) in gameplay and how it affects people if he means it like that (which I very much doubt).

  14. Dinger says:

    Well, the only rule that I see as difficult is the not-talking-about-it part, both in-game and out.
    in-game, yeah, those signposts might provide a scheme of interpretation. But their authenticity too must be established. Hell, I’d probably use the opportunity to develop a cypher. You can communicate with your progeny, but three lines per 6.25 planks of wood is pretty pricey.

    And, the out-game rule: I understand, but if the Creator couldn’t resist talking about it, why can’t the others?
    Maybe something like: from the moment you agree to receive the chain world, you will not read anything about it, and the moment you start reading about it, after having sent off the Chain World, you cannot speak about it.

    In other words, no master narrative. But we are hard-wired to share religious experiences. To keep it inside makes it a mystery cult.

    Oh, and Jason shoulda known that the successor he had in mind would be in the back of the oom, not the front row. I mean, he’d studied Scientology, so he knew about the power of celebrities, especially for mystery cults.

    But it’s all cool. I’ve been arguing for a while that Minecraft is what you want it to be. Jason’s talk formalized one part of the winning formula: the environment is tied to memory. That’s also why Dwarf Fortress chains have had their own cult following for a while.

  15. Hoaxfish says:

    There can be only one!

  16. Navagon says:

    It will be interesting to see how this thing develops. Clearly we won’t have as much difficulty keeping tabs on this one as was originally intended.

  17. devlocke says:

    Has Rohrer put up his slides from the talk, anywhere? A couple of them got a relatively huge crowd-reaction/laughter but the camera operator never panned over for me to see what everyone was reacting to.

  18. BurningPet says:

    Anyone else thinks that romero presented a super superficial version of a religion, aswell as a game?

    • Wulf says:

      Design is law!

      Good grief, I have a long memory.

    • gwathdring says:

      The bit about religion were mostly about worshipers devoted to a deity? The various sects of every major religion would like a word, as there are only so many pantheons between them but a hell of a lot more differences some of which have been focal points of violence and argument for centuries.

    • BurningPet says:

      exactly. if, for example, romero had presented an idea of that messiah, for a bad example, games can save humanity, then the twitter followers werent just random followers, but followers of an idea. from there the apostles would have to come up with methods or answers (how, why, which platform) for that idea and try to propogate their unique variations.

      then we would have seen a deeper religion, one that is constitued on an idea, practice or belief, has schims, a purpose.

    • gwathdring says:

      Roher and Chen do a good job approaching the subject in a way that is more interesting, intricate and relevant to gaming, I think.

    • gamma says:

      The final round of applause in GDC was just in my view.
      Romero was superficial… perhaps, more like gave an obvious example.
      Chen went to the bottom as far as analysis go given the time. Less pratical in the solution.
      Jason synthetised it materialy, and genialy.

  19. JibbSmart says:

    Would streaming what you were doing on Ustream, or even just recording it and putting it online without being involved in any discussion about the content break any of the commandments?

    • gwathdring says:

      If it were me, I wouldn’t feel good about doing that. Writing down your intentions on signs and such seems much more in keeping with the theme then showing people what you did. Think of history and religion as it stands now: we don’t know how the Ziggurats were built because we watched it happen but because we read what was left of the plans, and guessed and tried to mimic the techniques with what tools we think or know the builders had. So with religion: most people don’t follow deities because they found a video of the universe being made out of nothing or breaking out of an egg or some such. But because they look around, listen to the ideas, beliefs and stories of others (are especially swayed by the stories of their parents, and their local society) and then compare that against new ideas both from others and within themselves.

      More concretely, I think writing down what you did and your intentions in detailed paragraphs worth of signs or books (if your Chain World used a mod that lets you write in bookshelves) breaks Roher’s rules is infinitely more in keeping with the theme of the game and the idea than streaming video of your play. Showing people what you have done breaks the game. It is no longer anything really resembling the original concept of Roher’s Chain World as it lacks the crucial element of mystery in the succession.

    • gwathdring says:

      Reply fail.

    • JibbSmart says:

      I agree. But it’s a loophole, isn’t it? And the closest this has come to having any religious links is that people will look for loopholes.

      I think most people who talk about its links with religion do it from a religion-less background.

      This whole thing has very little to do with religion at all. There’s no history or story to believe in — the history is laid out in front of us in articles like these. There are commandments, but these only apply to those few who get the opportunity to actually play the game. The legal system has commandments, as do EULAs. This doesn’t make it a religion.

      It has no followers — some people think its cool, some disagree with each other regarding what’s good and bad about it, and some don’t care; that’s no different to Friday or Pokemon.

      The only link is faith. It could be argued that the game doesn’t exist at all, and that the thumbdrive just has a readme on it saying “There is no game! Keep it quiet, keep it to yourself, wait a while and pass it on”. It’s a big link, for sure. But how come no one seems to be discussing it? The word “religion” is thrown everywhere, but the connections made are loose at best.

      Examples at the top of Google:
      link to
      link to
      link to


    • JibbSmart says:

      Okay, so I said two completely different things were the closest this has come to being a religion. My fail.

      Take the first one (the loophole-seeking) as hyperbole.

    • gwathdring says:

      I guess I would argue that it doesn’t matter if there are loop holes. Religion and laws share something in common in that they often aid in altering or shaping or defining our moral and ethical modes of interaction. Laws and religious commandments have loopholes just like games (especially meta-games) have loopholes. Let’s take an example of a law/commandment in a simple form ignoring for a moment the complexity it actually takes on in real religions and legal codes as a result of the various loopholes surrounding it. Thou Shalt Not Kill. It seems simple enough. But “to kill” is a transitive verb. I kill something, actively. It is not merely in a state of kill. It has been killed. That transitive nature brings up a question: how directly must I be tied to the death of something to have killed it? Is intent more important, or effect? What if, through interactions so complicated as to be inexplicable in paragraph form, my actions result in the death of another? What if I set them in motion willfully? What about animals? What counts as being alive? Is the Earth alive? The rock? Plants?

      Ambiguity. Loopholes. These come out of even simple laws and commandments, of even simple ideas about right and wrong. We take things we know we oppose at a broad societal level and set a base line for ethics and morality, but over time we break these base lines down to the edges until we are no longer sure where we stand. But there is a difference between an ambiguity and a loophole implied in the connotation of the word “loophole.” A loophole is a way to evade the rules, which implies knowledge that they are being broken which implies that they are not preventing or condemning something they are intended to condemn or prevent which, somewhat circularly, implies that the rules are being broken in spirit if not as part of a technicality.

      But religion is rarely “about” hard and fast rules to the extent that laws are. It’s about far too many things to explain in this post, most of them known to most of us at some level, and some of them varying by religion and individual practitioner or observer. In four words, complicated. And similarly a meta-game like Roher’s isn’t about the rules. It’s about the result. The moral code. The societal structure. The world created. The atmosphere and the succession and the evolution and the mystery rather than the rules themselves. You can change the game all you want, but that doens’t mean you’ve found a loophole. If you are finding loopholes, you have lost sight of the fact that there were never any rules to begin with. It’s your religion. Your game.

      In my game, what you are describing … well it doesn’t matter if it breaks the “rules.” It’s not ok.

    • JibbSmart says:

      Wait… are you saying it is or isn’t a loophole? I think it is, because it’s a way to do something the rules are intended to prevent (share information about your experience in the Chain World) without actually breaking the rules.
      link to
      Doesn’t that fit?

      Either way, I think that’s a very long-winded way to say something about loopholes and then argue that my first comment was against the spirit of the whole thing, even though you already said so and I already agreed.


    • gwathdring says:

      It was long winded. I’m sorry. I get into meta arguments and sort of lose track. I’m saying that the game doesn’t have loop holes because it doesn’t have hard and fast rules. The rules aren’t trying to prevent specific behaviors and thus you aren’t evading the rules by performing specific behaviors. It seems to me that the game is designed to be reinterpreted, subverted and changed as much as to be played under the original rules. Since it’s about religion, faith and interpretation it’s hard to say there are any objectives of the rules beyond those perceived by the players. So I guess on the one hand, it’s against the spirit of the game regardless but on the other hand, in a more esoteric and philosophical sense the game isn’t about WHAT the rules are so much as having them, interpreting them, and passing the results onward.

    • Jibb Smart says:

      Okay, that makes sense.

  20. gwathdring says:

    I love the idea. It’s not necessarily new. It’s not really important to me whether or not other people break the rules. But I find the idea of an evolving, breathing game world which each player can only change for a short while quite beautiful and I don’t really care much about the original rules, the original Chain World, or what happens to them.

    It would be an easy enough game to create with or without the scripts: even with the scripts, it’s a simple process to break any rules decided on for a particular Chain World so you might as well ditch them and just pass around the world from Minecrafter to Minecrafter. The trouble is you can’t legally pass around the .exe/.jar of the game itself so you shouldn’t give the game to people who don’t play Minecraft but if you don’t mind distributing the .jar anyway then you can quite easily make your own Chain World to pass from person to person whether or not they play Minecraft.

    Heck, if you copy the world carefully you could even temporarily play a Chain World as a server so a small group of people could play and change the world until they each died in turn before passing it on to another lone player (or obviously, group of players).

    It’s the mystery that gets me. What happened here? How many have come before me? What were they trying to build? Do I want to continue it or do I want to start fresh? Do I want to build to shape those who come after me, in the image of those before me, or simply for the sake of building?

    Not everyone likes Minecraft, and not everyone finds it a spiritual game. I’m sure some of you find the idea of Minecraft being a spiritual experience to be a bunch of crap. But I personally find the act of creation to be a very spiritual act, especially when tempered with the dangers of nightfall or getting lost. And those dangers become all the more real and terrifying when you only have one chance to leave your mark.

    Any Chain World in the hands of a “believer” in the sense Roher imagined is a miniature simulator of the spiritual and philosophical life portions of life. And that’s what makes it beautiful. If you do find the idea compelling, and more so if you also find Minecraft compelling, you might get a taste of what it means to carry out a full life. You get a taste of what it means to die. Just a taste. But isn’t that compelling? Worthwhile? I think it’s beautiful.

  21. Unaco says:

    This situation made me think of this essay I read not too long ago.

  22. pipman3000 says:

    nobody is allowed to talk about the chain world because the usb drive is actually filled with horse porn. they receive it do their business and send it off to the next sicko.

    • pipman3000 says:

      it’s sad because some fellow is going to spend years trying to track down and steal that usb stick and when they finally get it they’ll notice it’s stinky and kind of crusty and instead of some computer gaming religious relic of world building it’s several poorly compressed .jpgs of horse porn.

    • Soon says:

      But first they’ll have to avoid the swinging blades and spell out Jason’s name (Or JROHRER, maybe) on the tiled floor. Then meet the guardian of the sticks where their nemesis will pick the shiny, gold-plated USB stick and perish.

    • EthZee says:

      See, I actually think this idea is better. Simply because it’s more entertaining, and our entertainment is not hindered by not knowing what each recipient of the USB stick did with the horse porn.

      In fact, I’m going to take this as fact. It is not a Minecraft game but is in fact horse porn. People want to pay over $3000 for horse porn. Alec Meer waxes lyrical (almost jizzes, you could say) over a man’s plan to distribute horse porn. People get angry about the people not distributing the horse porn.

  23. mbp says:

    That effing video is an hour long and you expect me to watch it before I read the rest of your article???


    20 second summary please!

    • pipman3000 says:

      john romero farts for half an hour and then some guy talks about a game or something,

    • qrter says:

      Is it one long fart, or a seemingly unending stream of smaller farts?

    • gwathdring says:

      Just the first 15 minutes, I believe the author asked. And it’s sort of because if you don’t care enough to watch the 15 minute video it is likely that you won’t get much out of the article or will come to the aforementioned conclusion about whether or not this is all pretentious bullshit without really bothering to listen to where it even comes from. It might still be pretentious bullshit, but if you’re going to bother going in depth into the topic you might as well figure out what the topic IS.

      So it makes sense …. and you can always break the rules.

    • The Army of None says:

      Not all good things come in 20 seconds. Patience is a virtue, a virtue as highly prized as Grand and Magnificent Stone Dong building in the Minecraft Chain World

  24. Kameltoemunch says:

    I absolutely despise this concept and I haven’t a clue why. It rubs me the wrong way. Must be the horse porn?

    Seriously though, I like the idea of a world on a stick being passed around. Its a minecraft succession game, and that’s fairly awesome. As soon as he alluded to himself founding some sort of a digital religion I checked out. Its a nifty concept, but lets not try to take it to Dune levels of self importance and pretentiousness. Its a hardcore succession game, not the holy grail of gaming.

    • gamma says:

      Someone once said God exists from the moment people start to believe in Him. Could the same apply here?

      “Him” being one of three possibilities:
      1. what anyone is told to believe He is. Dogmatic Religious
      2. what one, by himself, assumes Him to be. Self tought Agnostic
      3. the eventual(in this case observable) physical representation of that belief. Rational Atheist

      Along these lines there would be no need to designate/identify (make up a word for) Atheism if there was no God. But I care not to confuse Atheism with what would be in that case a dogmatic denier of God.

      This game experiment could certainly become religious. No doubt about it.

  25. John P says:

    I gotta say, this is the most boring non-story I’ve seen in a while. A couple of dudes disagreeing over what to do with a USB stick. Who cares? The game isn’t pretentious, Rohrer isn’t pretentious, but all these attempts to claim this story is somehow important or profound certainly is.

    • Teddy Leach says:

      Eat the USB stick!

    • gamma says:

      I agree… they are not being pretentious. But just because the issue raised is religion invoking along the way some philosofical questions does not make it pretentious. You’ll find both pretentious comments and pretty normal ones. Some humourous, others disdainful… All the ingredients of a good story!
      It just might even make to history… (yeah I know… it is still early to claim that)

    • Chaz says:

      I have to agree with you John. What gets me is the way this is being made into a big story when so far only one or two people have actually contributed something to the world on the stick, am I right? I could understand the hype over this if it had already been in circulation for a year and now it’s only just come to light and has a world created by 10’s if not 100’s of players. But for a project where the wheels have barely left the runway, then no, I really don’t get all the attention it’s receiving. In 3 months time this whole thing could have just crashed and burned, in which case this is all just empty rhetoric and hot air.

  26. Daiv says:

    How can people look at this concept and dismiss it? It’s what Minecraft needed all along.
    We start a Minecraft world and know that our time in it is limitless. We can do anything we want. There are no consequences to death. There is nothing but randomness to explore.
    In this version of Minecraft there will be wonders. You didn’t create them. You might never find them. There are stories here.
    A castle, the owner long-dead, the torches long guttered out, filled with zombies and spiders.
    A hill carved into the shape of a skull, only visible when you travel West for three days and look back East.
    A small wooden night-shelter on the only island in the middle of a lake that takes a day to cross in either direction.
    A tower of glass and iron, fifty blocks high, but clearly only half-constructed. A short distance away, a crater lies as mute testament to the fate of its builder.
    A block of smelted iron on top of a mountain. No rhyme, no reason. Just a simple, wordless “Yes, I was here, I saw this view before you.”
    A lava flow rerouted, spelling out an obscenity. Who wrote it? Why?
    Beneath the starting spawn point, an extensive network of tunnels, filled with working computing engines, musical block tunes, and elaborate works of art. Nobody ever finds the entrance, concealed beneath a block of sand. It is never seen by another human being.

  27. JibbSmart says:

    I really hope that the stick has nothing on it but a text file saying “Sh! There is no game. But don’t tell anyone! Pass this on after a few days.” I also hope we never find out.

    But really, it could be anything on the thumbdrive.


  28. brian says:

    Just like religion I first greet it with a wry smile because it must all be in good fun and slowly i’m bored so much that I become angry by the people who co opt it/support it and the endless stupid debates thereafter. Imagine four balls on the edge of a cliff, Chain World works the same way.

    • gamma says:

      Deep stupid questions are by nature boooooring. Religion was the question GDC asked developers to make a game of. Some went down the most interesting path (actually the original chalenge was to go beyond the obvious priest adventure, etc. Romero anyone?) to design a gameplay that equated to religion (implied is of course, what the developer _himself understands_ as religion).

      What could be a less boring way of discussing religion if not through a game?

  29. Stormdancer says:

    I like the idea a lot.

    I want to smack the videographer in the face.

    You fail to pan over for the guy’s grandfather picture… the sign he built, the house… all that stuff we almost certainly aren’t familiar with.

    And then … you pan over for freakin’ Stonehenge? WTF?


    Then you stay focused on the rules, which we’ve all read by now… and fail to pan over for the display of the key?


    Yeesh. Interesting talk, though. What I like a lot about this ‘religion’ is that… anyone can create their own. And almost certainly will.

    • gamma says:

      Only to discover half-way-in there was a second display on the right (dispite a bit more perpectivated) which would allow for much better planes between the presenter and its datashow.

    • gwathdring says:

      Seconded. He/she needs a good smacking.

      @gamma: I was thinking about that too … from the angle of the camera it looked pretty damn easy to pan to the right and back to the speaker ….

  30. DOLBYdigital says:

    I love how some people get all defensive while others get dismissive and others understand the idea/concept. Its really funny how different all us humans think and react especially to ‘sacred’ things like religion :)

    This was a fantastic idea for the game design challenge in my opinion, I just hope we don’t hear FOX news stating “Gaming is now trying to start cults and bring down Christianity…” or some ridiculous crap like that….

    • gamma says:

      The concept is too much chalenging for the established interest of perpetuating religion (dogmatic beliefs as a way of life) to be mainstreamed. To atest to that is the fact that the game is indy by nature., only its perversion and dumbing down to mere “game” class would bring it mainstream.

      I say it is a digital-revolutionary-trojan-horse.

    • pipman3000 says:

      you’re partially right: there is a horse involved.

  31. Malawi Frontier Guard says:

    Look, I can’t help it. Every time I see the image in the header I think he’s holding a condom in his hand.

  32. BobsLawnService says:

    I’m afraid gaming is leaving me behind. really don’t see the point of this little experiment nor do I believe it deserves any of the hype it is getting. I miss the days when games were just games.

    As much as people would like to believe otherwise this thing really has absolutely nothing to do with religion nor is it particularly interesting. A bunch of journalists are passing a game around on a flash drive. It’s really not that big a deal.

    • gamma says:

      For the sake of gaming virtualy you might be right, but my guess is that the developer wanted to go beyond “gaming” in this instance.

      Also, Rohrer seems to share that nostalgia for the purest early games.

      for “just a game” check this

    • gwathdring says:

      Hold that nostalgia! Games still are just games. Reflexive property. And logical gimmicks aside, plenty of people make games to be fun or because they think people will find their game fun. Gaming for the sake of enjoyment is not dead. It’s just that people, especially on the edges of the industry, are increasingly recognizing that games can be fun and engage people on other levels at the same time. Or that some people find something other than shooting aliens and organizing tetroids fun.

      This also isn’t the mainstream pulse of gaming. This is a competition specifically designed to push gaming to the edge of the known and explore the limits of the medium that video games have become.

      “As much as people would like to believe otherwise this thing really has absolutely nothing to do with religion nor is it particularly interesting.”

      If nothing else is is related to religion because the designer came up with the idea while thinking about how religion can be framed in the medium of gaming. I’m sure lots of people don’t give a crap about this or Minecraft or the artistry and narrative power that games are capable of or any of the sorts of topics that come up at GDC. But I find it utterly fascinating and I think that if in no way other than pure analogy it has loads to do with religion. The metaphor pans out quite nicely I think though whether or not you think that metaphorical link between the way Chain Game was launched into the world and the way religions can sometimes function is interesting or important is another matter.

    • DOLBYdigital says:

      Good comment gwathdring!
      I’m really loving some of these responses where people just don’t understand analogies or really the concept of the Game Design Challenge. Its meant to explore the limits of games (which many should know are none) and challenge designers to create different types of games. I think many just see some guy who they think is trying to start some new religion with a game. They don’t realize that he just came up with an ‘idea’ for how a game could resemble religion and how it functions in our society (which is what the challenge was). oh well, I’m glad this happened even if many are getting defensive/dismissive about it. If anything it should show themselves their insecurities towards this issue… or maybe not :)

    • gwathdring says:

      Thank you. :)

      But I fear I must quibble a tad. I think games certainly do have limits. I think that actually makes things like this competition more interesting. The extent to which the metaphor can actually play out properly once released into the world matters. The extent to which the design can be successfully implemented matters. I think design is unlimited but that games themselves aren’t. And exploring the region where this becomes a conflict between design ideas and gameplay realities is part of what makes these talks so interesting to me. In short, we as gamers are an essential variable in game design because more than the average entertainment media we are part of the game. We aren’t just the audience, but we actively alter the medium. The Chain World auction is a good example of how radically a player can change a game and (I guess now that it’s not as obscure as originally intended) we might well see whether or not the metaphorical side of Chain World can still force it’s way through and make design into gameplay.

      My guess is that the whole thing fades into a succession game without the full richness of the original concept behind it. I’m not convinced, as taken and entranced by the idea as I was listening to him present it, that it will actually carry on from gamer to gamer. Maybe long after the internet forgets about the whole thing, both the original and subsequent Chain Worlds will take on some of that mystery and richness that flesh out the concept of the game. Maybe some of the private little chain worlds people have started amongst friends away from the internet already have lived up to the idea if indeed people have made them.

      The idea enchants me, and I loved the presentation of it. But I’m not sure it will work, especially not in the public eye.

    • DOLBYdigital says:

      I see your point of view although I guess when I said games don’t have limits, I was thinking about games in a general sense. Like how some people make games out of their lives or going to the shopping market. You know the essence of a game is just some rules and an objective (although the objective can be obscure and it still be a fun game, like minecraft). So in a sense, games can be applied to almost everything and therefore have very few limits.

      However I’m probably pushing that a little too much but its not hard to think about some advanced race playing games with things that we hold dear like our lives, nature and reality. I guess the ‘Q’ race in Star Trek comes to mind in that sense :)

      I agree and hope that this idea is used in other games that don’t carry all the silly baggage that this idea has built up around it. I would love to be apart of a game that resembles life in that your actions do matter and you only get precious, fleeting moments with it. Also the concept of affecting the future gamers with your actions, something that many in today’s society don’t like since it requires thinking about responsibility and consequence. Thanks for the talk though, I love RPS for its great community where you can actually discuss topics instead of it turning into an argument about who’s ego is bigger :)

  33. bill says:

    Imagine if all the games could live as one, and we didn’t have people attacking this game because it wasn’t their idea of what a game should be.

  34. Binman88 says:

    I see he went to the TED school of speeches. I’m sorry, I have little interest in the subject matter at hand, but Mr. Meer challenged me to watch the first fifteen minutes of the video and not snarl about pretension, yet it’s the only thing I feel compelled to do.

    • gwathdring says:

      That word really bothers me. To call someone’s idea pretentious is to say that his or her idea is not worthy of the value ascribed to it, with strong connotations of false-intellectualism, insincerity, and/or arrogance. The implication is itself a loaded value judgment and the connotation is often misplaced. Plenty of ideas dubbed pretentious are believed whole-heartedly by sincere individuals. I think Roher likewise finds something really important in the idea of the Chain World without necessarily ascribing all that much importance to himself for having created it. He’s exploring games and enjoying himself doing so. Perhaps he ascribes unjustified value to some of his gaming concepts … but especially given the connotations of pretentiousness, people who believe this should stick to simply disagreeing with the value judgment he applies to his games rather than accuse him of arrogance and vanity for finding significant an idea that they do not. Maybe he is humble enough to accept not everyone thinks it’s as exciting an idea he does, but still wants to share the idea because, well, he’s excited about it and was asked to share as part of a competition.

      This goes for anything someone wants to call pretentious. It is applied far too often when there is a simpler disagreement over the value of something rather than any sort of obvious arrogance, exaggeration, vanity, or misplaced affection for an idea involved in the estimation of that value.

      That said, you may well mean it along with some or all of those connotations. I prefer to avoid the label of pretension. I can sure as hell disagree as loudly and clearly as I want, but simply because I disagree with someone about the value of their an, does not make him or her presumptuous and vain. That’s the same thing as presuming that I am always right, which is somewhat arrogant and would probably mean I’m rather pretentious myself.

  35. Keep says:

    Here’s where I see the “like a religion” bit (and that word LIKE is kind of important. Anyone who thinks this IS a religion is an idiot; it’s about whether we can see parallels – and look how many have been drawn up in the comments above) outside of what Rohrer himself says about it from within the gameworld: There exists something important, an artifact, and various people want to control its meaning for all generations to come. But that’s something that (as we’ll see, as chainworld gets passed on and on) can’t be done.

    Each person thinks there is a Way things ought to be done, and they try and compel those that follow them to accept their Way.

    But the way chainworld has been set up, it cleverly blocks you from doing that. Ha!
    So well each new person will try and find room for their own understanding of The Way. They’ll reinterpret the commandments, or they’ll introduce new ideas, or they’ll denounce the actions of their predecessors. Woteva.

    And that conflict is interesting. Chainworld isn’t worth all this fuss, at least not yet, but maybe someday it will be. It’s going to get changed, abused, distorted. If you can’t foresee that, well go read up on the history of any religion, you’ll see it there too.
    We’re idiots, us humans. And it’s always interesting to find out how we’ve expressed that.

    • gwathdring says:

      I like part of what your saying but there’s a considerable layer of blitheness. You throw around the word idiot a fair bit. “People are finicky and change things sometimes and make mistakes and we’re all idiots.” It’s a way to look at societal interactions that can often be rather lazy, writing off the strange combinations of “progress” and “mistakes” borne of instinct and psychological quirk as the results of blunt stupidity … society is more complicated than that. And to the extent that it can be simplified to a “people are ____” sort of phrase (and in a lot of lights it can be so simplified), narrowing the options to stupidity and intelligence completely misses most of the impetus for human interaction. If we’re going to break it down, even the oft repeated “people are animals” is far more telling than “people are stupid,” which while flip and catchy doesn’t actually cover very much ground.

    • Keep says:

      Oh I don’t mean “We’re idiots” as an explanation of any of what’s going on. It’s an injection of humility is all- clearly if we weren’t idiots our religions’ histories’d be simple, our discussions about this usb drive’d involve less knee-jerk declarations of other people’s idiocy (Heck, add me to the list of those who made em :P).

      But you’re right – “People are animals” is a better way of capturing that idea.

  36. Berzee says:

    “RPS – Are your rules designed to be broken and evolved – i.e. are they the 10 Commandments or are they the Bible?”

    Like Jason, I reply,

    “What, what”

  37. godwin says:

    What puzzles me is the attention given to this whole event. Through and through it’s about an exclusive group of people, centred around the cult of celebrity born from a media forum, having their own fun with an idea; an artifact. Then the media spins it, and spins it, and the whole thing becomes insular and self-interested, self-perpetuating.

    Seriously, what’s stopping anyone else from making their own version of this experiment (because that’s what it is, no?), planting their own seeds, making their own mutations, branches, amalgamations?

    Why all the focus on what is essentially a circle jerk? Yet because of its exclusivity, Jia Ji had successfully exploited it for his own ends, and props to him for that. But I don’t think we should have any illusion that this is in any way more of a ‘religion’ than chasing your favourite TV drama serial is.

    In itself, the gesture, the action (of the instigator, Rohrer) – that is, the Chain World and its arbitrary rules – are interesting and fascinating to learn of (and participate in). It sounds much like an extended exquisite corpse exercise, or a kind of passed-on-to-a-stranger sketchbook project, except it is now taken a little further because of the prospect of interactivity, a virtual adventure. These have been done before, passing through private, unseen spaces and boundaries in uncountable, unknowable instances. This is probably how it should remain for the experiment to be special, beautiful or meaningful for someone that encounters it. We always speak of our favourite art encounters as anecdotes after all.

    But then anyone else could have a different reading to that. I’ve noticed that many here have been quick to dismiss ‘religion’ and generally have a narrow, unsympathetic perception of it (it sure is easy to lump all ‘mystical, irrational beliefs’ into one). That is fine, but it also leads to rather narrowly constructed views and discourse with regards to how this action may relate to religion or experience of the spiritual. Perhaps we could consider that it may be inane to attempt to construct or design religion in what is probably a post-religious environment.

  38. adlewis says:

    I was quite inspired by Rohrer’s initiative — so much so that, with his permission, I’ve started a Kickstarter campaign to bring his methodology to comic books, too. If people are interested how we’re adapting the “Chain World” idea for comics, they should come have a look at link to or follow us on Twitter @cwfce.